Smokey Robinson

(b. 1940)

Although his early hits with the Miracles were instrumental in putting Motown Records on the map, William "Smokey" Robinson was more than just the label's first star. His gifts as a a songwriter, record producer, and spotter of talent played a crucial role in Motown's musical and commercial success, and his behind-the-scenes contributions remained a key element of the company's musical output throughout its glory days.  Robinson's graceful presence, sweet voice, and witty lyrical romanticism made him the company's first idol, with Bob Dylan calling him "America's greatest living poet."

In the mid-50s, the Detroit native began singing with neighborhood friends Pete Moore, Ronnie White, Bobby Rogers, and Rogers' cousin (and Smokey's future wife) Claudette Rogers; that lineup soon became the Miracles. In 1957, they met struggling local songwriter/producer Berry Gordy, who helped the group get its first single, "Got A Job," released on New York's End label. When Gordy encountered problems getting paid by the labels he worked for, Robinson encouraged him to start his own company. 

In 1960, the Miracles' "Shop Around" became Motown's first million-seller. Over the next dozen years, Smokey and the Miracles scored a lengthy run of hits including such classics as "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," "Mickey's Monkey," "I Second That Emotion," "Ooo Baby Baby," "Going to a Go-Go," "The Tracks of My Tears," and "Tears of a Clown."  Meanwhile, Robinson served as Motown's vice president, while writing and producing hits for other Motown artists, including Mary Wells ("My Guy," "Two Lovers," "The One Who Really Loves You," "You Beat Me to the Punch"), the Temptations ("My Girl," "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "Get Ready," "Since I Lost My Baby"), the Marvelettes ("Don't Mess With Bill," "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game,") and Marvin Gaye ("I'll Be Doggone," "Ain't That Peculiar").

After going solo in 1972, Robinson embraced a more laid-back brand of romantic Pop Soul on such albums as 1975's A Quiet Storm (which became such a stylistic landmark that an R&B radio format was named after it) and such hits as "Cruisin'," "Being with You" and "Just to See Her." Now in his second half-century of music-making, Robinson remains one of popular music's most beloved voices.